Life behind the stately walls of Grenville Christian College was “stranger than fiction,” according to a former student who is part of a second class-action lawsuit seeking $225 million in damages for alleged physical and sexual abuse at the former private boarding school east of Brockville.
A statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto against Grenville Christian College and the Anglican Diocese of Ontario alleges that although the school was promoted as an Anglican school, its principals were closely allied with the Community of Jesus and promoted bizarre cult-like behaviour that has left the pupils permanently traumatized.
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Former Grenville College students in the class-action lawsuit are claiming damages for psychological, physical and sexual abuse that took place at the school between 1973 to 1997.
“It’s really important for these former students to have a forum in which they can get justice,” Toronto lawyer Loretta Merritt said in an interview Thursday. “A lot of these people have been sitting on these secrets for a very long time,” she said.
One of the case’s plaintiff’s, former student Andrew Hale-Byrne, said in a written statement released Thursday he was under the impression the school was an Anglican boarding school when he was first enrolled.
“The reality behind the walls was so rarefied and absurd that it was truly stranger than fiction,” Hale-Byrne said, adding the case gives the alleged victims a chance at closure. “I am pleased that this process offers the opportunity for the victims of abuse to be heard and that those responsible are being called into account.”
The lawsuit seeks $200 million in general damages and $25 million in damages for the “physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual abuse” Merritt alleges the former students suffered at the school, which shut down suddenly last summer.
The claim alleges students were subject to public humiliations and light sessions, in which pupils were dragged out of bed at night by staff shining flashlights in their face and denouncing them as sinners. It also states female students were subjected to lectures on celibacy and marriage and told all other women were “sluts, whores, bitches in heat, jezebels and temptresses.”
The lawsuit names as defendants the school, the Anglican diocese, Rev. Charles Farnsworth, a former headmaster, and his wife Betty, and former headmaster Al Haig and his ex-wife Mary.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Merritt said former students have suffered a loss of self-esteem and confidence and experienced trouble with relationships and employment as a result.
The latest lawsuit focuses on the close relationship between the school and the Kingston Anglican Diocese of Ontario and alleges that the school and its founding headmasters, both ordained Anglican priests, were closely allied with the Community of Jesus, an organization labelled a cult by U.S. media. The lawsuit also states the Anglican Diocese of Ontario was responsible for the clergy at the school and should have known about the bizarre practices and behaviour at the school overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Another class-action lawsuit from former Grenville Christian College students seeking $1 billion in damages was filed last October.
Christopher Haber said in an interview Thursday he has applied for a certification motion hearing before a judge in Superior Court of Justice in Milton, Ont., to certify the class-action lawsuit. The hearing is expected to be held in March or April.
He said it is up to a judge to certify a class-action lawsuit, which will determine which of the cases will go ahead.
“We’ll see how the other lawsuit unfolds and we’ll proceed on that basis.”
Neither lawyer in both cases would reveal how many former students are being represented in the class-action lawsuits.
The statement of claim filed in Superior Court of Justice in Milton on Oct. 17 names Rev. Haig and Rev. Farnsworth as defendants along with the Anglican Church, Grenville Christian College, Berean Fellowship International of Canada, and the Massachusetts group known as the Community of Jesus.
The court document alleges students were beaten with wooden paddles and subjected to “light sessions” and also accuses former staff of questioning female students about their virginity and denouncing them as “whores.”
Rev. Farnsworth, of Brockville, who served as headmaster between 1984 and 1998, has publicly denied the allegations.
Allegations by former students against the private school first surfaced on Internet chatrooms and in the media after Grenville Christian College closed in July.
The complaints sparked an Anglican Church Diocese of Ontario inquiry into the allegations and an OPP investigation. There have been no charges laid in the ongoing probe, OPP spokesman Sgt. Kristine Rae said in an interview Thursday.